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Theories of emotion

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American Psychologist William James and the Danish Psychologist Carl Lange. James-Lange theory holds that physiological response give rise to our cognitive experience of emotion. Our body responds to a perception of an event before we experience the emotion. James-Lange Theory: 1. Event 2. Arousal 3. Emotion

Example: The dog is growling; My muscles tense; My heart races; I feel afraid.

The Cannon-Bard Thalamic Theory

Walter Cannon a psychologist and his student L. Bard.
Propose their own theory of emotion which states that, Thalamus which is a part of the brain’s central core has the central role in emotion. They called it the Thalamic Theory. When an emotion-arousing situation is encountered, the thalamus simultaneously sends messages to the cerebral cortex and to the body’s internal organs. This joint arousal of the cortex and the sympathetic nervous system results in emotional feelings. The belief that the bodily changes and the experience of emotion occur at the same time is the core of the theory. Cannon-Bard Theory: we feel the emotion, and then experience physiological reactions such as sweating, trembling and muscle tension simultaneously.

Example: The dog is growling; I get scared; I tremble.

Cognitive Theory of Emotion

Stanley Schachter and Jerome Singer.
Emphasize the role of cognitive factors and social situations in determining emotional states. They theorized that our perception of our emotional state is influenced by our interpretation of the situation as well as by physiology. Their recognition of the early influences of physiological arousal reflects the James-Lange Theory. The role of the brain in interpreting and labeling emotional experiences, they reflect the Cannon-bard Thalamic Theory. Schachter-Singer Two Factory Theories: Arousal in different emotion is entirely the same and we label are arousal according to the cognitions we have available.


The Major Emotions

According to Marx (1976) that the most important major emotions are love, fear, and anger.


Wrightsman says that love starts in infancy. The infant derives satisfaction from its being fondled and fed by its mother which are accompanied by physiological processes of a pleasant nature.

Harlow’s research (1974): The Affection of one child to another, heterosexual affection, maternal affection, paternal affection.

Olinsky’s account of love relationships (1970): The moment is from the symbiotic love of the infant, through the dependent love of the toddler, the possessive love of the child for the opposite-sex parent, the confidential love of adolescent friends, to the romantic love of young adults. Romantic love prepares couples for the next steps – the mutual constructive love of marriage and the caring love of parenthood.

Rubin’s study (1973) distinguished between love and liking.

Love –involves attachment (a need to be with the other person), caring (a feeling of responsibility and a desire to help), and intimacy (a desire for close communication).

Liking – on the other hand, has more to do with having a favorable opinion of another person. Another investigation by Rubin revealed that love and sex are necessarily related. According to the study, couples who had intercourse were more or less likely to stay together over a two-year than couples who did not have intercourse. Further, results showed that in women, love scores were higher if the relationship was sexual.


Studies reported by Wrightsman.

Fear – is an unlearned response that is aroused in threatening situations. It is a fixed combination of physiological and behavioral responses to certain stimuli.

Two basic functions of fear in the life of a species were pointed out by Suomi and Harlow (1976).

1. It has a survival value – in that it helps the organism avoid injury and death. Many people whose lives are threatened seek exile in places where they cannot be reached or harmed. 2. Fear helps to keep social groups together – a young child runs to his parents when he is afraid. Generally, members of a family stay home in times of disaster or danger.


Marx and Wrightsman describe the fundamental stimulus-situation eliciting anger as some kind of frustration. Children cry with anger when toys or food are denied or deprived them; adults considerably manifest anger when their plans are blocked or thwarted.

Anger – tends to rise and fall rapidly. It dissipates faster than other emotions.

Harlow (1974) – mentions that anger has adaptive functions. It produces the feeling of aggression we need when we have to fight. Since aggression releases tension (lets off steam), the cathartic effect thus produced serves an adaptive function of anger.

Berkowitz (1970) – give evidence to the fact that there are many situations where aggression begets aggression. Therefore, venting one’s anger by acting aggressively does not always lessen anger.

Significance of Emotion

The positive role that emotions play in our lives has been mentioned at the beginning of our discussion on this behavioral concept. To wit, they add color, flavor, or spice to our existence. They break the lull or monotony of what can be a dull or boring affair or activity. When uncontrolled, they can also disrupt the calm and quite in what used to be a peaceful abode or dwelling.

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